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Jamie McMurray’s reunion with team owner Chip Ganassi couldn’t have started any better.
He won the Daytona 500. He went on a whirlwind cross-country media tour. He won the pole for the Auto Club Speedway race.
Since then, things hadn’t been so great. He ended up finishing 17th in California thanks to a bad set of tires, then stumbled to crash-related finishes of 34th and 29th the following two weeks.
Heading into Bristol, McMurray had fallen all the way to 19th in points, and suddenly things weren’t looking so great.
But he showed up in Tennessee determined to turn things around, and it paid off with an eighth-place finish.
“I’m just racing,” he said afterward. “I will say that I haven’t run this well here in any of my years at Roush. It felt really good to be able to come back.”
McMurray’s solid result moved him up four spots to 15th in the standings, but he’s a mere 40 points away from eighth.
Looking back now, McMurray said he had “messed up this year” toward the end of races and “crashed myself.”
“But we have had really awesome, really fast race cars all year,” which left him feeling optimistic for the rest of the season.
And it helped him make the upset stomach he experienced during the race an afterthought.
“I don’t know if it was the fumes (from the jet dryers) or something in my drink bottle or what, but 60 laps into the race I felt like I was going to throw up,” he said. “And it just seemed like it got worse every time there was a caution.”
McMurray was asked by a reporter whether he was able to take medicine during the race to help his stomach.
“I wasn’t going to mess up a pit stop for a Tums, you know?” he said.
Jimmie Johnson has won yet again, though this time it was at Bristol, where he had never won before.
So that’s something, at least.
But really, it was about as surprising as the sun coming up in the morning.
At least Sunday's race was the final one with the wing. In the brief "Wing Era" that lasted 93 races, Johnson won an astounding 22 times – nearly a quarter of all the events.
If the change to the spoiler doesn’t affect Johnson in a negative way, it seems little could stand in between him and a fifth consecutive championship.
Before everyone moans and groans (and believe me, the “Anybody But Jimmie” crowd is growing every week), let’s look at the incredible success Johnson has had.
Sunday was his 50th career win. Only three drivers – Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip and David Pearson – have reached that mark faster.
Johnson only has five tracks remaining where he has not won, and with five more wins, he’ll tie for eighth on the all-time wins list.
Currently, he’s tied for 11th with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. Lee Petty (54) and Rusty Wallace (55) would be next.
At Johnson’s current pace, he could reach Dale Earnhardt’s career total of 76 wins within a few seasons.
The other drivers are trying as hard as possible to topple Johnson (Kurt Busch told the crowd that “It sucks losing to the 48”), but they can’t.
Johnson has now won three out of the first five races and has 30 bonus points for the Chase before the season is two months old.
Despite everyone gunning for him in the offseason – yet again – Johnson is kicking ass – yet again.
And it doesn’t seem like anyone can do a thing about it.
The Bristol race is about to get underway, and we want to hear what you think about every wreck, pass for the lead and drama.
Chat with us all race during the Food City 500 and get more info than just TV can give you.
Boogity, boogity….uh, never mind. How about “Start chatting now” instead?
NASCAR has been sorely lacking in the feel-good stories department the last few years, but Justin Allgaier’s victory in the Nationwide race at Bristol on Saturday brought smiles to many faces in Thunder Valley.
Here are five reasons why:
1. A Nationwide Series regular beat the Sprint Cup guys. Nationwide-only drivers hardly ever win these days, which made Allgaier’s victory in a companion race (against the likes of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and aggressive teammate Brad Keselowski) all the more special.
2. It was Allgaier’s first career NASCAR victory. The joy of a first-time winner who worked hard to reach the top levels of racing is always worth watching. Allgaier was in a make-or-break year in ARCA – his father could no longer afford to help fund his racing – when he won the championship and grabbed the attention of Penske Racing, getting his big break. His emotion was obvious over the team radio and in victory lane.
3. Allgaier is a great kid. A polite, humble family man at age 23 (his wife Ashley has a constant presence by his side), Allgaier treats people respectfully and does things the right way. He’s one of the good guys.
4. Allgaier won a fantastic race. His battle with teammate Keselowski was nip-and-tuck the whole way in a demonstration of short track racing at its finest. Keselowski may have moved any other driver out of the way, but he raced his teammate cleanly and it resulted in a memorable finish.
5. Penske’s 1-2 finish shows a challenger to Gibbs. Joe Gibbs Racing cars have often been the class of the field the last couple seasons, sometimes completely dominating events. But Penske showed its Nationwide program is for real and is capable of challenging Gibbs and some of the more established teams (the No. 22 is a brand new team). Fresh faces running up front can't hurt the interest level of the Nationwide Series.
It’s going to be an interesting day here at Bristol. Will we see any of the rivalries show themselves on track?
Brad Keselowski is on the pole and Carl Edwards starts fourth.
Who wins today? And just as important, where will John Wes Townley finish?
Our pick: Edwards.
Bristol Motor Speedway added SAFER barriers in turns 2 and 4 recently, which took away three feet of the former racing groove. But Matt Kenseth wondered why BMS doesn’t simply finish the job for the purposes of safety.
“I think as long as we’re spending money on SAFER barriers when you put all these people in here, we should just put them all the way around every track on the outside and inside,” he said. “Then you wouldn’t have to worry and there wouldn’t be all those weird transitions.”
SAFER barriers are the so-called “soft walls” that have some give when cars hit them at high speeds. NASCAR made them mandatory at every track last decade, but they are not installed all the way around the track at each venue.
Kenseth said he can tell off Turn 4 that the track is narrower than before and said drivers would hit the wall sooner than they did prior to the barrier expansion.
But, he added, “It’s kind of weird because you come off and there’s the SAFER barrier and then it goes away from you and the wall is half-a-car-length away from you and then it comes again. I wish they would put it all around everywhere.”
Kenseth, second in points through four races – the last three with new crew chief Todd Parrott – said he’s pleased with his team’s new outlook.
“Everybody’s attitude, including mine, has been a little bit better,” he said. “It’s probably put a little spark in the thing. … Everybody has been pulling on the same end of the rope.”
Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski emerged from their much-anticipated meeting with NASCAR by practically posing for the cameras and more than two dozen media who had assembled outside the Sprint Cup hauler.
After meeting for the first time since their controversial wreck in Atlanta, Edwards and Keselowski walked out side-by-side, then smiled and gave each other a friendly goodbye pat before going their separate ways to qualify their Nationwide Series cars.
Keselowski won the pole and Edwards qualified fourth. After their laps, with their cars parked next to one another, Edwards leaned on Keselowski’s No. 22 car and asked him about his lap.
Just like old buddies.
In reality, they remain far from friends. But both drivers said in separate interviews that the meeting with NASCAR – and team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske – produced a better understanding that should allow them to race hard going forward.
"We laughed, we cried," Edwards said. "In the end, I think it’s going to be good."
Keselowski said he’s always respected Edwards, mostly because "in a sense, we’re the same people."
The Penske driver declined to reveal specifics about what was said in the meeting, but added there was nothing that surprised him, which he found slightly disappointing.
"I was hoping there would be, to be honest," he said.
Roush said he didn't believe Edwards and Keselowski saw eye-to-eye on the matter, but said "I think they will give one another enough respect that we won't see another occurrence like that."
Said Penske: "The guys agreed they're going to race hard, fair and give themselves some room on the racetrack so we don't become the poster boys every weekend on what's happening."
Edwards said the biggest eye-opener through the whole experience was how the national media handled the situation. He was made out to be a villain, particularly by outlets that don’t traditionally cover NASCAR.
"It’s very hard for people to understand the result is far different than the intent," he said. "Things can be presented in a lot of ways, but I guess that’s just part of it. Sometimes it’s about selling ad time or newspapers, not about explaining the story."
Edwards responded again to criticism from Kevin Harvick and others who say he’s "fake" and two-faced.
Said Edwards: "Some people would like that to be the case. It’s really easy to stand back and throw stones at someone and make little chirps and say things that make you feel better about yourself. But in the end, the people who know me know that I’m a very fair person. I guess if my biggest fault is standing up for myself, I’ll take it. They can fault me all day for that."
Keselowski, though, had a smile on his face after grabbing the pole.
"If you’re going to be successful in this sport, it’s really important that you separate the emotions," he said. "I feel good that I was able to do that."
The man who gave Brad Keselowski his big break in NASCAR won't offer any advice but indicated the young driver still has a lot to learn.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Keselowski – his former protégé at JR Motorsports – has "an awesome amount of talent and a terrible amount of confidence."
"It's been working for him and he doesn't see any reason to change," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday after qualifying at Bristol. "Everybody has to change some and he'll learn at his own pace. And that's what he's doing."
Earnhardt Jr. said he hadn't spoken to Keselowski about the Carl Edwards incident at Atlanta other than to express his relief that his friend emerged unscathed after the now-infamous wreck.
"That wreck scared the shit out of me," he said. "Knowing Brad as good as I do, you don't like seeing guys involved in terrible accidents. I told him I was glad that he was OK. I never tried to tell Brad what to do when he drove our cars; no point in me trying to tell him now.
"He'll have plenty of advice from everyone else, it looks like."
Earnhardt Jr. said that like anyone who enters the sport, (Keselowski is not technically a rookie but is in his first full season), the Penske Racing driver will discover he doesn't know it all.
"Everybody does it differently," he said. "Brad really has a lot of talent. ... He's just overzealous to prove it and to be there in front every week where he thinks he needs to be. It'll all be OK.
"He'll get to learn a lot of lessons in his rookie season – every rookie does – and he'll probably be glad to tell you guys all about it at the end of the season. And I'm sure his tune will be just slightly different than it is right now."
Appearing chatty and in a light-hearted mood, Earnhardt Jr. pointed at the reporters interviewing him and compared Keselowski's first few weeks as a full-time Sprint Cup driver to anyone's experience at a new job.
"When you guys find yourself in a new environment, you've sorta gotta learn the ropes," he said. "You find out where the give and take is and what guy is a little [freaking] short on temper and what guy [isn't]. He's going through that process, just like everybody else."
And Earnhardt Jr. said he went through the same experiences as a young driver.
After winning the Nationwide Series title in 1998, he said he showed up at Daytona in 1999 feeling a bit cocky.
He recalled coming off pit road and trying to go three-wide – and failing. He wrecked Dick Trickle, Jeff Burton "and about eight other guys," Earnhardt Jr. said.
"And they all came to my garage stall after the wreck, and they're like, "Get your [freaking] head out of your ass!" Earnhardt Jr. said, putting his hands around an imaginary throat.
Of course, his famous father – seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt – offered some lessons, too.
"Me and my daddy had some moments in my rookie year – little hand gestures and such that he would give me when I was out there being an idiot," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You know, you learn. You think you know everything, you think you've got everything figured out, and it's a good attitude to have – it's refreshing the way Brad is – but you learn that you don't everything figured out and you had a lot to learn.
"It's all about a journey – not about raw talent – it's just about growing up in the world."
As for the present day, Earnhardt Jr. spent the off week battling a sinus cold. He said he laid around on the couch, which is what he would have done if he was healthy.
"I chilled out pretty hard," he said.
The No. 88 car was terrible in qualifying trim (though he still managed to qualify 18th) but much better in race trim, where he said it was "surprising" how much better the car was than last year.
Each week, NASCAR makes the top 12 drivers in points available for a 15-minute media session.
The faces marching through the infield media center are typically familiar: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, etc.
But there were two strange faces in the media center at Bristol: Scott Speed and Paul Menard.
Speed’s presence wasn’t entirely unexpected. After all, despite his lack of NASCAR success, he is an ex-Formula One driver.
The driver sponsored by his billionaire father’s company (Menards) has never really sniffed Sprint Cup success. In three full seasons, he’s finished 28th, 34th and 32nd in points.
And yet, here he was on Friday at Bristol, ninth in points after four races.
It’s early, but Menard has been impressive so far.
“It’s been a good start,” he said. “We haven’t had any real bad luck so far, so, knock on wood, hopefully we can keep that going and keep having solid finishes.”
Menard spoke quietly, calmly and with little emotion. He said it was “cool” to be in the top 10, but added, “It’s early in the year and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
And for visiting the media center more often, which would mean he continues to stay in the top 12?
“I can definitely get used to it,” he said.
Just when you thought the Bristol weekend would be all about the Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski feud – after all, it is the first race since Edwards spun Keselowski and sent him airborne at Atlanta – apparently the real rivalry is with someone else.
Kevin Harvick was interviewed on a radio show this week in which he said Edwards was “fake.”
He reiterated his comments Friday morning at Bristol, saying Edwards was fake because “you can’t be the nice guy, you can’t be the bad guy and you can’t be the bully” all at the same time.
Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press caught up with Edwards coming into the track shortly thereafter and asked Edwards about Harvick’s comments.
Edwards told her:
“I have absolutely no respect for (Harvick). I think he’s a bad person. That’s my opinion. I’ve told him that. We’ve had our deal before and his actions through that … were so devious and underhanded and cowardly that I just have no respect for him.
“When people like that question me, it makes me feel better because if those people were lined up patting me on the back, I’d be on the wrong side of what’s right and wrong. And I truly believe that. I am not trying to be a good guy or a bad guy.
“That’s just who I am. All those people that say whatever they say, know that if I have an issue with them, I go speak to them. I don’t go talk behind their back like little girls, that’s what a lot of them do. I learned that wasn’t cool in about fifth grade.’’
For those who aren't familiar with the Edwards/Harvick history, check out this story from their altercation in October 2008.
Obviously, we’ll keep watching to see how this story develops.
There's plenty to talk about in Bristol this weekend.
The wing makes its final appearance in NASCAR before the spoiler returns next week at Martinsville; unusual names like Paul Menard and Scott Speed are in the top 12 in points; the top 35 in owner points is set after this race; it may rain on Sunday, bringing possible weather strategy to the Food City 500.
Oh yeah, and there's some sort of ongoing feud between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski.
Catch all the updates and analysis here throughout the weekend.
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